The word “Cloud” has been creeping into the tech and business vernacular over the past decade, and even though there are compelling benefits behind the tech, many have been left wondering, “What the heck is the cloud?” After all, “It can’t be good with a silly, fluffy name like Cloud!” Well, in this article I’ll address what the cloud is, why you should consider it for your organization and what to look for when selecting cloud services.
In the simplest of terms, the cloud is a remotely located server used for information processing, storage, or both. Taking it a step further, a single cloud site can include hundreds of servers, and thousands of drives that to the users work and act as a near-infinite medium for data management. Another step further, cloud services can and are in multiple locations, but still, serve as a single site to the user. As we’ll shortly learn, there are powerful benefits to this arrangement of computing power.
Running a business, especially one that caters to government agencies…data safety is the utmost of importance. Because of that, I have historically been one-hundred percent dead-set against any notion of using cloud storage or services. But, a little over a year ago, during a visit with an Austin software executive, my opinion radically changed with his rhetorical questions and answers:
1. “When is the last time your staff updated anti-virus?” - “Our team does it on a daily, sometimes hourly basis for our customers.”
2. “Does your team include dedicated staff that is continuously monitoring for intrusions?” – “Our team does!”
3. “Are your servers in one static location?” – “Hackers love a static target; our servers shift position.”
4. “Is your data encrypted?” – “Passwords and user permissions only get you so far. The data we host is 256 bit encrypted and CJIS compliant.
5. “One last thing, do you use online banking?”
The last question was the clincher for me. Of course, I use online banking, who doesn’t! The obvious implication is that any user of online banking is already trusting the cloud, and trusting their life savings at that!
Before meeting the Austin software exec, I had use cloud services in a limited manner…mostly just sharing of files too big to be emailed. But quickly after the meeting, our business servers were relegated to fantastic coffee tables and the server rack, a showroom shelf.
BACKUP – SHIFT THE WORRY
A fundamental tenet of the computer world is that hard drives will fail, and it’s just a matter of when. Leveraging cloud services, you can shift this constant worry to someone else. Using a broad-brush, companies providing cloud storage conduct continuous cycle backups which may also include multiple sites. So, should anyone one server, or even entire facility become compromised, the data is safe and secure.
ACCESS ANYWHERE – INSTANT DISASTER RECOVERY
For the private sector, there is a tremendous convenience in being able to securely access data from anywhere and not being tied down to an office. For public safety though, this can be an advantage during times of disaster.
Being able to access data from almost anywhere including low-power mobile devices promotes the ability to establish impromptu operations should a given facility become compromised to a natural or man-made disaster.
EASE OF COLLABORATION AND ACCESS ADMINISTRATION
Every cloud service I’ve used to date makes the job of sharing information quick, easy but under terms that are entirely defined by you.
In times past, if you have compiled a mountain of data evidence that needs to be shared with a partnering agency, several DVD’s or USB sticks would need to be rendered and delivered…which may take hours or even days. With the cloud, however, it’s a click of a mouse, and presto…your desired recipient has access.
With most cloud file sharing services, you can give recipients varying levels of access such as view only, download capability, edit, delete, add and share. Each level of access can be defined to specific files, folders and for certain periods of time.
Along with dictating what a given recipient can do with a particular file or folder, those same rules can be applied agency-wide. For those unfortunate occasions when staff must be dismissed or suspended during an investigation, access privileges can be immediately revoked without having physical access to hardware.
In today’s world, it’s easy to eat up a terabyte (1,000GB) of storage. This is especially true for law enforcement with the advent of HD body cameras, interview rooms, in-car camera systems, and complainant video. Compounding the matter are the policy and statutory retention, and backup requirements. These factors create a constant search for additional storage, but a click of the mouse will deliver an almost unlimited amount of storage. Of course, that extra storage will be at an incremental cost.
SEARCHABLE ORGANIZATION WIDE
A powerful feature offered by most cloud computing and storage services is the ability to search entire organization files. Versus disparate data storage locations, e.g., multiple personal computers and backup devices, an admin can search all files and yield instant results. As with any other computer search, criteria can include file names, content, date, author, and activity.
When considering the cost of cloud servers, it’s natural to only make a dollar and cents comparison to a physical computer and hard drive…but there’s a lot more to it than that. However, humoring that comparison lets' use one of my personal experiences of replacing a file server.
The file server system cost stemmed from the server itself, server rated hard drives, Windows server license, anti-virus subscription, firewall server, firewall software, UPS (power backup), and a backup storage array. Conservatively, and not counting maintenance, software renewal, climate control, electricity, and labor cost, that single server cost $4,500. In comparison, the replacement cloud services annualized for five years is $4,800.
I think it’s fair to say if we were to factor in that additional maintenance, labor, and other hosting costs, the replacement cloud service would win hands-down. Of course, there are of those hard to quantify benefits of access convenience and peace of mind from having some of the worlds best manage IT security.
WHAT YOU NEED TO LOOK FOR
As cloud computing and storage is being rapidly adopted by the business world, there is, of course, some reasonable trepidation that law enforcement should have before jumping into the world of cloud. At minimum, here are the things you should look for in cloud services:
1. Audit Capability
Especially for public safety, you need to know those 5 W’s…who, what, when, where and why. A could service worth its salt is going to provide this custody information.
2. CJIS and/or FIPS 140-2 Compliant
Most major cloud providers offer CJIS (Criminal Justice Information Services) compliant services. Additionally, for a Federal customer, some providers are FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) compliant, and many are willing to become compliant.
3. US Located Servers
Through various means of control, host countries can have easy access to data. Obviously, it’s best to keep your information on this shoreline.
4. Retention Management
An excellent cloud service should provide an ability to manage aging files to eliminate clutter, and very importantly…keep cost low. Most providers that offer this toolset will provide definable, global rules, e.g., all files are automatically deleted or archived after one year, except for files tagged with “X”.
Thanks for reading, and I sincerely hope this article has been of assistance to you. Please feel free to contact with comments. I'm easy to reach via email. For a recommended cloud storage system, please visit our Eagle Eye Networks page.or by phone at 1-855-778-6565.